Fresh tur­moil in­side No­var­tis’ re­vamped CAR-T or­ga­ni­za­tion as top ex­ec jumps ship


There’s more tur­moil to re­port from in­side No­var­tis’ CAR-T camp.

On Fri­day Karen Walk­er will leave a se­nior po­si­tion in charge of CMC/man­u­fac­tur­ing of CAR-Ts for No­var­tis in ex­change for a new po­si­tion she’s tak­ing at Seat­tle Ge­net­ics, End­points News has learned.

Walk­er — the VP Glob­al Head Cell and Gene Ther­a­pies Tech­ni­cal De­vel­op­ment and Man­u­fac­tur­ing at No­var­tis — was one of three se­nior ex­ecs put in charge of the cell and gene ther­a­py ini­tia­tive at the com­pa­ny last fall, ac­cord­ing to sources close to the com­pa­ny, af­ter a bruis­ing re­struc­tur­ing over the sum­mer in which the unit was chopped up and ab­sorbed in­side a huge R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion. Samuele Butera was put in charge of the com­mer­cial/busi­ness as­pect of the group while David Leb­wohl han­dles clin­i­cal ops.

“Karen Walk­er will join Seat­tle Ge­net­ics as Vice Pres­i­dent of Glob­al Qual­i­ty in mid-April,” con­firmed a spokesper­son for Seat­tle Ge­net­ics.

I con­tact­ed Er­ic Al­thoff, a spokesper­son for No­var­tis, Wednes­day night, but af­ter ac­knowl­edg­ing my query he did not fol­low up. Al­thoff has de­clined to re­spond to a fol­lowup query.

No­var­tis has been bleed­ing tal­ent through­out its glob­al or­ga­ni­za­tion for the past year. Walk­er’s de­par­ture, though, comes at a par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal stage for No­var­tis, just days af­ter the phar­ma gi­ant gained a pri­or­i­ty re­view for CTL019, putting it on a short path to per­haps the first his­toric ap­proval for a CAR-T.

Last sum­mer End­points broke the sto­ry about No­var­tis’ re­or­ga­ni­za­tion in CAR-T, which led the group’s top ex­ec, Us­man ‘Oz’ Azam, to leave No­var­tis. About 120 staffers were al­so ter­mi­nat­ed as the sep­a­rate group was pulled back in­to the R&D struc­ture.

No­var­tis has kept up a neck-and-neck race with Kite on the lead pro­gram, which has its own pi­o­neer­ing CAR-T head­ed to the FDA.

Man­u­fac­tur­ing in this field is crit­i­cal. To make this ther­a­py, physi­cians ex­tracts cells from can­cer pa­tients and then reengi­neer them with a chimeric anti­gen re­cep­tor to guide them to at­tack can­cer cells. The re­vised cells are then in­ject­ed back in­to pa­tients. To be com­pet­i­tive, a com­pa­ny has to prove not on­ly that they know how to make the ther­a­py, they al­so have to be able to turn it around quick­ly for use.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.